Medical students present scholarly research at virtual colloquium

Medical students gain important research experience for competitive residencies
May 5, 2021

For a second year in a row, the Texas A&M College of Medicine’s Office of Medical Student Research Education hosted its Medical Research Colloquium in February. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s two-day event occurred virtually.

The colloquium included opening remarks from Amy Waer, MD, FACS, dean of the College of Medicine and Jeremy Gibson, MD, executive associate dean for Academic Affairs, along with two keynote speakers, poster sessions and podium sessions.

“I congratulate all the students who participated in the 2021 Medical Research Colloquium,” Gibson said. “There was not only a strong representation of research from all campuses but also a broad variety of research topics.”

The research program, culminating in the colloquium, allows medical students to gain research experience that is necessary to be considered for residency placement in certain competitive specialties.

The two-day event allowed medical students—including MD/PhD, MD Plus and EnMed students—from four of the college’s campuses (Bryan-College Station, Dallas, Houston and Temple) to present scholarly research in front of a panel of judges.

Bhargavi Patham, MD, PhD, adjunct assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine and assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College, was the keynote speaker for day one of the colloquium. Her speech, entitled “Glucose as the Fifth Vital Sign during COVID-19 pandemic” was about the care of diabetes patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was honored to be invited speak at the Medical Research Colloquium,” Patham said. “It is my sincere hope that that all our Texas A&M students explore medicine and research with inquisitiveness and enthusiasm that was displayed during this meeting. I wish them all the success in their medical and research careers.”

Barbara Trautner, MD, PhD, professor and director of clinical and health services research at the Baylor College of Medicine, was the keynote speaker for day two of the colloquium. Trautner spoke about her personal journey to becoming a physician-scientist.

“I was honored to be invited as a keynote speaker by such a fine medical institution,” Trautner said. “I really enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm of the students. The students who have a research experience during medical school will be better physicians, as they will understand how to interpret medical literature and scientific reports, and this education will be to the benefit of their patients. Participating in research day clearly helps the students achieve this goal.”

Awards for the poster presentations category were given to two first-place winners, two second-place winners and three third-place winners. Bradley Schott, first-year EnMed student, tied for first place with Nicole Mehta, PhD, first-year MD student. Schott presented a case study on eye-tracking as a new way to teach medical histology. Mehta presented a case study about the influences of alcohol consumption on the development of congenital heart disease.

Second-place winners included Samantha Fine, third-year MD student, and Monica Vegiraju, first-year MD student. Fine presented a case study about a very rare disease deficiency called Alptha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) that affects 80,000 to 100,000 people in the United States. Vegiraju’s presentation discussed a 3D-printed tool that helps identify where the belly button is during a tummy tuck procedure.

“I never did any research in undergrad, and as silly as this is about to sound, I didn’t even quite understand the concept or idea of research until my first semester of medical school,” Vegiraju said. “This was my first research endeavor, so getting an award for it was the last thing I expected. I am honored that they chose me for second place. All of the pieces of research that were picked to present were interesting and engaging. It was executed in a proper manner and Drs. Conover and Nigli did a great job organizing it.”

Third-place winners of the poster presentation category included Caleb Hernandez, third-year MD student, Emily Newstrom, third-year MD+ student, and Uyioghosa Dominic Evbayiro, second-year MD student.

“I owe my thanks to Dr. Jinadatha and his research team at the Central Texas VA who mentored me and graciously allowed me to use their lab,” Hernandez said. “The colloquium is a great opportunity for medical students to gain experience in poster presentation and answering questions from judges. The colloquium is of great benefit to Texas A&M medical students because it creates an environment that is less stressful than, say, a regional or national conference because we are among our own peers and faculty.”

“I was happy to learn that I was one of the participants receiving an award for my presentation, especially with several other students presenting on interesting research projects,” Evbayiro said. “Our research is on a protein called S100 Calcium Binding Protein B (S100B) which is expressed and secreted by brain cells called astrocytes. Our project was focused on quantifying the level of S100B expression and secretion by astrocytes following treatment with several Parkinson’s disease-inducing neurotoxins. These preliminary findings add to our growing understanding of the S100B protein.”

Co-awardees for the best oral presentation award included Dixita Viswanath, third-year medical and first-year graduate MD/PhD student, and Sonali Batta, second-year MD student. Viswanath presented a case study about the use of an artificial lymph node as a therapeutic cancer vaccine.

Batta presented a literature review abstract that originated from a first-year medical course taught by Steve A. Maxwell, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine, about basal cell carcinoma, the most frequently diagnosed cancer in the world, and ways to treat it using a special type of method called the Hedgehog pathway.

“Given the challenges our community has faced in the past year, the 2021 colloquium is a testament to the commitment of our students and faculty to advancements in research,” Batta said. “The virtual delivery of the event represents innovation and resilience in these unprecedented times, and I greatly appreciated the opportunity to share my research on a school-wide platform and learn about the outstanding projects being conducted by my peers.”

The purpose of the Medical Research Colloquium is to promote scholarly research conducted by medical students who had the opportunity to collaborate with faculty mentors and residents in the same research field.

“I feel this venue is really good at promoting the exchange of ideas and discussion that elevates both students and faculty knowledge,” said Gloria Conover, PhD, director of the Office of Medical Student Research Education. “Personally, it is very rewarding for me to see the energy and the genuine interest of the students, faculty and attendees participating in our colloquium.”

— Gracie Blackwell